Chapter Seven Al was twice as upset as Sam, but when it came to showing his pain, he was also twice as stoic. Sam's gesture, although a futile attempt, still helped to make him feel at least one person in the world, even if he was lost in time, cared. He saw that the Leaper was in tears, and recalling the initial change in the timeline, when he had suddenly found himself in Beth's arms, he realized how much that had meant to Sam, who had actually requested his destination in order to put right the biggest wrong in his friend's life. It was like a wonderful thank-you present for everything Al had done. It was the only way Sam could possibly pay him back. "Oh, Al," he muttered, once more, through his tears. "What _happened?_ I thought . . . I thought . . . " His voice trailed off again, and Al was fairly sure he knew what Sam was trying to say: I thought I'd put everything right for you. I'm so sorry I let you down. "Yeah. I know, Sam." His deep, dark, nearly perpetually pained eyes spoke volumes. "It's just . . . well, Beth thinks I don't care about her because I spend all of my time at the Project. And worse than that, she wants full custody of my youngest daughter Trudy Danielle. She's fifteen. Beth thinks I haven't been a good father to her because I'm always gone. Trudy's visiting me right now for spring break, and for all I know, it's the last time I'm going to see her. Look . . . do you mind if I go spend some time with her while you get your rest?" He opened the glowing Door to the Imaging Chamber and waited for Sam's inevitable 'yes.' "I'll be fine," Sam said, "as long as Ziggy agrees that nothing's going to happen while I'm asleep. Even if there is, I can handle it if you just give me a little warning. You need to spend some time with your daughter." [Because it wasn't good enough,] the Leaper mourned. [I had my chance, but I blew it somehow.] Why was it that no matter how hard he tried, things never worked out the way he wanted them to? When he wanted to return home, he never did. When he wanted to Leap to put right a major wrong in Al's life, that didn't work either. There was no middle ground. Al tapped at the handlink, and reported that there didn't appear to be any problems. "But you watch your back, Sam, because that isn't a 100 percent guarantee, much as I'd like to hope it is. Bye, Sam." And with a wave, Al vanished from Sam's sight. [Oh, I wish I could do something for you,] Sam thought, despairing. [But I don't know what I could possibly do from here.] Trudy Danielle Calavicci knew better than anyone, even her own mother, she'd decided, just how terribly upset Al was over everything. Both their lives were coming apart. She'd been particularly close to him for as long as she could remember, and she had made up her mind that she was not going to go with her mother if she tried to drag her away from him. Although she only saw Al when she was off from school, she took it as the best of military kids do, and accepted it as a fact of life. Her mother's accusations that he'd been neglecting Trudy Danielle were ridiculous. She got the feeling Beth was doing it out of spite at him because she thought he was neglecting _her_, which Trudy Danielle thought was equally ridiculous. She remembered something her older sister Anita had told her before she left for college: "Don't let anyone yank you around, Trudy. Because a lot of people are going to try, and you've got to stand up to them." Of course, neither 'Nita nor she would have ever anticipated this, but as far as she was concerned, the advice still applied. Because even if Trudy Danielle was the baby of the family, she _was_ a Calavicci, and she wasn't about to let anybody mess with her, whether they happened to be a lawyer, a judge, or even her own mother. If staying with her father meant remaining at the Project, she would do that. She wouldn't be the only one; there were Mike and Rowan Warshinskiy, and Leon Basquez. Right now, she needed to find Al and make sure he knew where she stood. She also realized that she was going to have to break it to her mother sometime soon, which she would be best off to do without Al present, lest she try to make a case that Al had coerced her into it, which couldn't be further from the truth, although she was sure he would applaud her decision. The admiral's daughter left her father's private quarters and made her way down the hall in the direction of the Control Room where she had gathered through careful eavesdropping the 'brains' of the parallel-hybrid supercomputer named Ziggy resided. She'd tried to talk to Ziggy once, but it seemed that 'she,' as everyone referred to her, was not permitted to speak to anyone who was not Project staff. Trudy Danielle had also overheard that Quantum Leap had something to do with time travel and that Al played an instrumental part in that. As she understood it, he could not risk taking off from work except on rare occasions or he would leave the time-traveler, Dr. Samuel Beckett, the Project Director, stranded. Maybe if she could figure out what would be best to study, she could get an official slot at Project Quantum Leap after she got out of college if things didn't work out for her and Dad. After all, by that time she'd be an adult, and no one could stop her from doing that. Halfway to the Control Room, she encountered a beautiful young woman whose hair was drawn back into a ponytail, except for one streak of premature grey that started at her right temple and hung in her face no matter how she tried to rearrange it. "Hey, where are you going?" the woman inquired. "And who are you, anyway?" "Oh, geez," Trudy Danielle muttered, suddenly realizing what her impulsiveness had gotten her into. Every detail she had managed to glean about the Project was classified, after all. She felt an awful pit in her stomach. "I'm not supposed to be down here, am I? I was just looking for my dad. Admiral Calavicci," she explained, realizing she was going to have to be a little more specific. "I'm Trudy Danielle." The woman glanced at her watch, which Trudy Danielle noticed was not set to the same time as the rest of the Project. According to her watch, it was ten thirty at night, but Trudy Danielle knew it was around one in the afternoon. She figured it had something to do with the time travel aspect of the Project. "Well, he ought to be finished pretty soon if all goes well. If you ever need to see him, just ask me next time," came the gentle admonition. She got the distinct feeling that she was being let off easy. "I'm Dr. Fuller, and I usually have a pretty good idea of what he's up to. I'll just tell him you asked about him." She winked and headed back to the Control Room. Trudy Danielle returned to the Calaviccis' quarters and breathed a sigh of relief that Dr. Fuller had been so understanding. A few minutes later, her father walked in looking positively haggard. She carefully avoided mentioning the fact that she knew he was operating in an entirely different time zone, so to speak, than the rest of New Mexico. "Is everything all right?" she asked. Al sighed. "Well, I've had a long day. And . . . and . . . " At that point all of the pent-up emotions he would not release earlier to protect the Leaper's confidence escaped, and Al found himself crying, a very unaccustomed display even around his own family. She didn't know what she ought to say, having almost never seen her father so upset in her life. Instead, she was able to give Al the embrace that Sam could not, which seemed to do some good for him. She decided that she had better give him her decision now before she started having second thoughts. "Oh, Dad . . . I want to stay here, with you. I could stay at the Project, just like the Warshinskiys' kids. It would work, just give it a chance." Mrs. Warshinskiy home-schooled Mike and Rowan, who were both just a little younger than Trudy Danielle; the former was thirteen, and the latter was fourteen. In a perfect world, that was exactly what Al would do. [Of course, if it were a perfect world, Beth wouldn't be doing this to me in the first place!] Al raged, but tried to keep his anger in check, because Sam had done the best he could. "Well, with my schedule, it would be hard. But it could work, if you were willing to stay with someone else when I'm at work; I can't predict my hours. Maybe Mrs. Warshinskiy could spare the time. I'd have to see." He paused, an ominous thought growing in his mind. "Have you talked to your mother about this?" "No," Trudy Danielle replied. "She's gonna go berserk, and I'm afraid to talk to her. I don't want to hurt her. I mean, she's my mother. But _she's_ hurting _me_ by trying to do this to me . . . to the both of us. It's not fair. But Mom can't take me from you if I don't want to go, can she? Can she?" Al's daughter whispered. "Well . . . " Al thought carefully about how to phrase this, "you're old enough to where the judge is going to want to hear what you have to say. But if he believes your mother, then it's not going to matter what either of us say. I'm not trying to be harsh, Trudy Dann. I just want you to know what we're up against. I'll do what I can. And you have to be ready to be strong, too. But we are Calaviccis, and we don't go down without a fight, isn't that right?" He was trying to sound inspiring, but deep inside, he was afraid that he was giving her a false hope to cling to. And yet he found that he, too, was hanging onto the very same thread. He was not going to lose anyone else dear to him: first his sister in whose memory Trudy Danielle was named, then his father to cancer, his friend Chip Ferguson over Vietnam to an anti-aircraft missile, Sam to quantum Leaping (but at least Al could talk to him), and now Beth was leaving him too, the very same Beth that Sam had Leaped especially to bring back to him. Of course, Sam could not be blamed. It was as if he were cursed anyone who got close to him would automatically be taken away from him. But then, a curse could be broken. At last, Admiral Al Calavicci resolved that he would not allow this to go any further. He wasn't going to let God or Time or Fate or Whoever win this time.